A quiet spirit of friendliness and jubilation filled the air Saturday morning at the West Broad Farmers Market and Garden for the annual Juneteenth celebration on June 15.
Juneteenth is an African American holiday celebrating the emancipation of slavery. The anniversary commemorates the day that slaves in Texas and across the South found out they were free on June 19, 1865 — two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Kids ran around the market and garden as their parents kept a watchful eye. Sylvanus “Zeke” Turner sang gospel music as a handful of local Athenians carried fresh food in reusable containers.
Turner has performed at all of the West Broad Juneteenth celebrations except for last year.
When asked how long he’s been singing, Turner responded, “Oh boy,” with a laugh. “Probably since I was about this big,” he said, holding his hand a few feet off the ground.
While the market was filled with local food vendors and artisans, much of the fresh food provided is from the West Broad garden itself.
“Everything you see on that table is from right there,” said Cameron Teeter, manager of the garden under Athens Land Trust, about the fresh vegetables she was selling.
The area was repurposed as a farmers market and garden in 2013. Previously, the building served as the West Broad Street School for black students during segregation.
“That’s why I think this site is so important for Juneteenth,” said Heather Benham, director of Athens Land Trust. “It allows people to come back into what was their space and their childhood in a way that they weren’t able to before.”
The school’s history is part of the reason why the West Broad Farmers Market hosts a Juneteenth celebration every year, in response to popular demand by the community.
Travis Williams, West Broad Farmers Market manager at Athens Land Trust, said the holiday is celebrated because “there was a lot of heart, a lot of brain power, a lot of lives lost to get ourselves to the point of not being property.”
Though Teeter said last year’s jubilee saw hundreds of attendees, the 2019 Juneteenth did not gather nearly as big a crowd despite performances by Blacknerdninja, LG and Mokah-Jasmine Johnson.
However the anniversary is celebrated, Williams said it is important to remember the “complicated history of our country littered with the bodies of our ancestors who put a lot on the line to established our basic freedoms.”
Correction: In a previous version of this article, Mokah-Jasmine Johnson's name was misspelled. This has since then been fixed. The Red & Black regrets these errors.